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InConjunction 2012: Who, Trek and Filk

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Wild Mercy performing
  • Wild Mercy performing

I spent the weekend of July 6-8 at InConJunction, a sci-fi/fantasy convention put on by the local fan club Circle of Janus. This was InCon's 32nd running, and it looks the Circle of Janus know what it's doing at this point, given the sheer amount of programming on offer. From a Doctor Who room to writing and literary panels to gaming to filk (I'll explain what that is later) and more, InConJunction had something for everyone even remotely interested in sci-fi and fantasy.

When I got to the convention, I headed for the Dealer's Room, sort of the InConjunction's gift shop. Among other things, I bought an anthology of short sci-fi/fantasy stories set in Indy called Unreal City and published Das Krakenhaus (a local sci-fi/fantasy publishing company) and an album by Wild Mercy, a local Celtic filk band that was the musical guest of honor at the con.

Filk is any sort of music (typically folk with a sci-fi/fantasy twist, particularly in the lyrics. Many songs are inspired by specific fairytale characters or characters from books like The Chronicles of Narnia or TV shows like Firefly. Others take a more general tact, discussing zombies or potential scenarios in outer space in a post-apocalyptic future. The latter example is the driving force behind Wild Mercy's album Dream of a Far Light.

I loved Open Filk (an open mic for filkers, natch), as well as full-on filk concerts by established groups such as Wild Mercy, Jen Midkiff, Wax Chaotic, Cheshire Moon and Herculean Cheese Storm (Star Trek-specific band Five Year Mission also performed, but I couldn't attend.) If someone didn't bring an instrument to Open Filk but wanted to play, that was fine; other members of the filk circle were happy to lend theirs. It was a warm and welcoming environment, and probably my favorite part of the con.

I also walked in on the preview for "Going... Going... Gone," an IndyFringe play about an auction house's last day that involves extensive audience participation. The short segment of the preview that I caught was hilarious.

I caught up with Wild Mercy guitarist and bassist Barry Childs-Helton during the Con to talk more about all things filk.

NUVO: Wild Mercy is obviously well-known in the filk community, but not as much in the rest of Indianapolis. Can you give me a bit of background on the band, like how you guys got started?

Barry Childs-Helton: Debbie Gates, our keyboard player, and I work for Wiley and Sons Publishers.. So we knew each other, and she and Jen had been playing in town as a Celtic duo that went by the name of Wild Mercy, and they decided in the summer of 2002 that they wanted a rhythm section, so they asked me if I could fill in on electric bass and if my wife would be so kind as to contribute percussion. As it happens, my wife Sally had been learning the bodhran, the Irish frame drum, so it was a natural move. It wasn't terribly long before the we became aware that all four of us were rabid science fiction and fantasy readers, and had been since day one. So in 2004, when Sally and I were invited to be Music Guests of Honor at InConJunction, we asked the con committee if they wouldn't mind having a whole band, and they said, "Sure," so that was Jen and Deb's entree into fandom.

NUVO: Since the theme of the convention is "End of the World," I have a feeling you guys will be playing a lot from your album Dream of a Far Light. For those who don't know, can you tell me about the overarching story concept behind the album?

Childs-Helton: Part of ... Far Light involves the industrialization of space because we have to. Essentially, the planet is trashed, and the only other resources available to us are in the solar system. So the lightships begin as a way of economically gathering resources from the asteroid belt and farther afield, but also as a way of maintaining a high-tech culture while at the same time maintaining authoritarian control. So it all starts with a kind of dystopic beginning; essentially, the culture wars writ large.

NUVO: You yourself wrote the words and most of the music for the entire album. What inspired you to come up with it?

Childs-Helton: I've had a lifelong interest in space flight. More on the "what if?" side of things, the idea that space travel is a watershed point in human history. That after that point, it's like nothing we've ever seen before, and I don't think we'll ever be the same again if we manage to continue doing it. I was 20 years old when Apollo 11 landed. There was this incredible thing going on where science fiction had started to come through the membrane that separates fantasy from reality. And there it was: people were actually on the moon.

NUVO: Any idea what's next, album-wise, for Wild Mercy?

Childs-Helton: We have one in mind. I think it's going to be a collection along the lines of our first two CDs, and sampling from a number of different traditions; there'll be some Celtic things, there'll be some filk, that's for sure, because there are so many talented writers in the filk community, and so much of their repertoire has found its way into our repertoire. And there will also be filkish tropes on traditional tunes; one of which was largely composed for this "End of the World" concert. It's essentially us singing about the end of the world as if it were a good, rollicking bar tune!

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